Biden’s Department of Education Targets Five GOP-Controlled States on Masking in Schools Policies

STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - SEPTEMBER 09: Harper Shea (5), lays her head down on her desk near the end of her first day of kindergarten on September 9, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. For millions of kindergartners attending in-school classes for the first time, wearing masks and social distancing at school isn't …
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The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is targeting Republican-run states over masking policies in schools, including Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Utah.

The agency said in a letter to the states it is taking the action because of the belief that mask-free classrooms could discriminate against children with disabilities who are allegedly at higher risk of contracting coronavirus.

Forbes magazine reported on the Biden administration’s efforts to force children to wear masks in school. DOE describes itself as a neutral fact finder” in the letter and said it hasn’t concluded that any of the states violated federal law.

Forbes reported on the states’ reaction to the DOEd move:

Education officials in South Carolina and Oklahoma responded to the DOE probes by criticizing their states’ mask mandate bans. Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister (R) told Forbes in an interview she’s not surprised by the investigation: “From day one, we saw this coming,” she said. Hofmeister hopes a judge will strike down the mandate, which she believes prevents school districts from keeping children safe while Covid-19 infections surge, but said she also plans on cooperating with federal investigators. And Molly Spearman (R) — South Carolina’s superintendent of education — has publicly questioned a state law blocking mask mandates, noting in a statement Monday she’s “repeatedly implored the legislature to reconsider [the law] and allow local school boards to make decisions affecting the health and well-being of the students they serve.”

In a statement, the Utah State Board of Education said it thinks the Office of Civil Rights has “unfairly defined Utah as a state where mask mandates cannot occur,” because local officials in the state can still propose mask mandates, though county politicians have the power to overrule them (schools in Grand County and Salt Lake City currently require masks). Education officials in Tennessee and Iowa told Forbes they’ve received the DOE letters, but didn’t comment further.

After the DOE Office for Civil Rights opens a probe, it sometimes resolves allegations by brokering an agreement with the target of its investigation, according to the office’s internal policies. It can also refer allegations to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution, and the Associated Press notes it can revoke federal funding in some cases, though Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona appeared to rule out pulling funding from local schools in an interview earlier this month because “those who suffer are the students.”

“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” Cardona said in a statement Monday.

Biden officials have not yet launched investigations into mask policy in Florida and Texas even as they have slammed those state’s governors for policies that allow parents to decide if their child masks up for school.

But Forbes reporting said that these and other states could be investigated at a later date.

“Judges blocked mask mandate bans in Florida and Arkansas this month, and Texas said it wouldn’t enforce its ban amid a raft of legal challenges,” Forbes reported. “Still, the department said it will continue to closely monitor those states’ and could open investigations if their bans are reinstated.”

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